Savoury

Red Panda Equinox

This year International Red Panda Day (IRPD) will be celebrated on Saturday, September 21st. IRPD was created by the Red Panda Network (RPN) and is celebrated every year on the third Saturday in September. RPN was created to promote the red panda and to find ways to fight for their survival, which is endangered due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. IRPD is part of this awareness campaign and is celebrated by zoos and individuals around the world with special events and red panda themed fun. Some zoos celebrate on different days, so check with your local zoo to see if they are doing anything and on what day. This year is the tenth celebration of IRPD.

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Depending on where you live, you also have an opportunity to celebrate either the Spring or Autumn Equinox. 

I’ll be celebrating the Spring or Vernal Equinox, which is a night of balance in which day and night are relatively equal. After the Spring Equinox the day wins ascendancy as longer nights are overtaken by longer days. The coming Spring brings a riot of colour, bird song and warmer weather. The return of bright hot days reminds me of the stunning colours of the red panda. The red panda boasts a striking mix of black, hot red, burning brown and bright white fur which are a great symbol for an Australian Spring and emerging Summer. Happily they are also the colours of Autumn. So whichever part of the world you are in, you can celebrate both red pandas and the Equinox!

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Some fun facts about red pandas:

  • Red pandas were discovered 50 years before giant pandas.
  • The name “panda” was given to the red panda first and then later to the black and white panda. The word “panda” may be derived from a Nepalese word meaning “bamboo eater.”
  • Red pandas are sometimes referred to as the “lesser panda” in relation to the giant panda but there is a movement afoot – or apaw – that is calling for them to be called “the first panda” in acknowledgement that they were discovered and named first.
  • Red Pandas were once thought to be related to giant pandas but they are actually in a family of their own called Ailuridae. 
  • A nickname for the red panda is “firefox” which inspired the Firefox web browser to use them as their name and symbol.
  • They are solitary except during breeding season.
  • Red pandas are crepuscular meaning they are active in the early morning and late afternoon and are arboreal meaning they spend most of their time in trees.
  • Although they are classified as a carnivore, red pandas mainly eat bamboo, though they will occasionally eat fruit, berries, eggs, insects and small animals. Like the giant panda, red pandas have an extra thumb used for grabbing bamboo.
  • Red pandas have retractable claws like a cat and the soles of their paws are covered in fur.
  • They have “tear track” markings on their face which may protect their eyes from the sun.
  • When it gets really cold, red pandas can use their bushy tail as a blanket.
  • Red pandas are one of only a few animals that can climb down a tree head first.

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Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus
The colours of this sunny hummus remind me of red pandas!

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Ingredients
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 + 1/2 cups rinsed and drained canned chickpeas
1/4 cup olive oil, more may be needed
1/4 cup drained sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
sea salt to taste
extra olive oil for serving
paprika for serving

Instructions
Process the garlic, tahini and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Add the chickpeas and oil and process until smooth.
Add the sun-dried tomatoes and process until just combined. (You may need to add more oil to reach your desired consistency.)
Season with salt to taste.
To serve, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with paprika.

To symbolise the balance reflected in the Equinox, I sprinkle paprika only over half of the hummus.

Cold Snaps And Warm Dumplings

Just as Spring was slowly starting to warm us up, Winter treated us to a final cold snap. I celebrated (because weather, good or bad, should always be celebrated!) by cooking what might be my last stew for the season. I thought long and hard about what it would be and finally chose an all time classic – chicken and dumplings!

I don’t have a recipe for the stew, as I usually just brown off some chopped chicken breasts which I’ve tossed in flour and then cook them in a stock with vegetables such as carrot, celery, mushrooms and parsnip. 

When the stew is almost cooked I add the dumplings. It is these pillowy delights that make this humble dish a truly warm and comforting treat.

Dumplings

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Ingredients
1 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
100ml milk

Instructions
Place the flour and baking powder in a bowl.
Rub in the butter until it looks like breadcrumbs.
Stir in enough milk until you have a batter of dropping consistency.
Drop spoonfuls of batter into simmering stew.
Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the dumplings are puffed and cooked through.

Dressing For Spring

Imbolc, the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, is celebrated on August 1st in Australia. Imbolc celebrates the return of Persephone as she begins her ascent from the Underworld, slowly transforming from our Queen of the Dead into our Goddess of Spring.

To celebrate Persephone’s journey, I bought a bottle of pomegranate vinegar. I was really excited, as I have tried lots of different vinegars but never a pomegranate one. I couldn’t wait to start experimenting with this new ingredient. My mind was reeling with ideas for an Imbolc recipe and I became fixated on using the vinegar in a cocktail. After much thought, I experimented with a gin and elderberry cocktail, which was interesting, but not something I would try again. As Imbolc neared, I almost panicked as I couldn’t think of what to make.

Today is the eve of Imbolc and the night of a Dark Moon. The sun is streaming through my windows and the birds are singing outside. I stare at the bottle of pomegranate vinegar, hoping for inspiration. Finally I am gifted with a memory of being served a platter with bread and three dunking bowls containing extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt. I remember dipping pieces of bread into the oil, vinegar and finally the salt. I also remember how much I loved it. At last I have a recipe idea for Imbolc! 

Rather than serve three individual bowls for bread dunking, I decided to make a dressing. I began by mixing equal parts of oil and vinegar, but I couldn’t taste the pomegranate, so I went with a 1 part oil to 2 parts vinegar ratio. I liked it, as it was fruity and almost unbearably tart. Happy with my decision, I sprinkled salt on top and grabbed a slice of sourdough bread. I sat outside dunking my bread into a flavoursome dressing while birds flitted through my bamboo heralding the coming of spring and the return of Persephone.

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The fun thing about this dressing is that you can choose what ratios suit you. You can also use it as a salad dressing or as a marinade.

Happy Imbolc!

Slowing Down For Winter

With winter in full swing it is time for slow cooking. One of my favourite winter meals is corned beef gently simmered in spices. Start this recipe early in the day and let your mouth water as the house slowly fills with the aroma of midwinter spices. Hot slices of corned beef go great with vegetables and parsley sauce. The next day reward yourself with cold corned beef sandwiches topped with sauerkraut and sour cream.

Corned Beef

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Ingredients
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1.5kg corned beef or silverside
15 peppercorns
8 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 cups water

Instructions
Place the carrots and celery in a slow cooker.
Rinse the corned beef then place on top of the vegetables.
Add the remaining ingredients.
Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

Lammas Down Under

February 1st is Lammas or Lughnasadh in the Southern Hemisphere. In the pagan calendar it marks the halfway point between the Midsummer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. It is the first of the harvest festivals and the first autumn festival of the year. It is a time of thanksgiving and sacrifice. The name Lammas is derived from an Old English term for “loaf mass” while Lughnasadh is derived from the name of the Celtic God Lugh.

Back in my coven days we followed a Celtic calendar so we celebrated Lughnasadh. When I left the coven I tried to continue embracing this ritual but found it difficult. Using the name Lammas rather than Lughnasadh helped as I could focus on bread and the harvest rather than a male Celtic God. Unfortunately Lammas is celebrated in Australia during the hottest time of the year. Temperatures soar, days are hot and sticky and nights are warm and muggy. It’s hard to get into the spirit of a festival focussing on baked goods when you yourself are baking as long and hot as a Lammas loaf. So instead of baking bread, I thought I would concentrate on the thanksgiving part of Lammas and make a sandwich I had on a recent trip to the USA. 

One of the things I am really grateful for is being able to visit my dear friend Anne on Whidbey Island in Washington State. She was a great host and tour guide and took us to some fantastic places to eat. For our last meal on the island we had lunch at Pickles Deli. There was so much on offer so I took my time devising the perfect sandwich. For the fillings I chose turkey with cranberry sauce and mayonnaise. This combination always makes me think of a thanksgiving dinner. Feeling adventurous, I did something I have never done before, I chose lettuce leaves instead of bread as my wrapping. My bread-free sandwich was a light and fresh taste sensation!

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The great thing about this sandwich wrap is that you can make it with homemade ingredients or store-bought ones and you can also substitute chicken for the turkey. I’ve made it many ways and they have all been delicious.

You can read more about my travels and recipes from Whidbey Island and other parts of the USA in my book Bites and Pieces of America. 🙂

Solstice Baked Potatoes

As the wheel spins towards another Midwinter in Melbourne, I am enjoying the cool weather and the need to wrap myself up in warm blankets and comfy dressing gowns. The sun is still warm during the day, but as it begins to set, the cold seeps in and the need to stop work, make a hot drink and retire to the couch sinks in.

On Wednesday June 21st, many of us will be celebrating the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. I’m not sure what I will be doing, but I am tempted to go to the Queen Victoria Night Market. This weekly winter market just happens to fall on the Winter Solstice. Although I’ve been many times before, I never get tired of it. I love the unusual stalls that pop up and make shopping a real treat. The food stalls are a real highlight! But what I love most is just being outdoors, surrounded by life, colour, sound and the smell of good food.

The food I enjoy most in winter is roast vegetables such as pumpkin, carrots and potatoes. The sweetness of the pumpkins and carrots goes beautifully with the crispness of well baked potatoes. Thinking of myself all wrapped up in blankets and gowns made me think of jacket potatoes – and taking them a step further – so I experimented with a recipe for potatoes baked in a salt crust. For me they are a perfect union between crispy roast potatoes and moist steamed potatoes.

Salt Crust Potatoes

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Ingredients
1kg cocktail potatoes
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 cup fine salt

Method
Preheat oven to 220C / 430F.
Wash and dry the potatoes.
Prick each potato several times with a fork.
Coat each potato with egg white.
Coat each potato completely with salt.
Bake for 1 hour or until tender when pierced with a skewer or fork.
Crack off the salt crust and serve with your favourite potato toppers.

Year Of The Red Fire Rooster

Saturday January 28 is Chinese New Year. It is time to say farewell to the Year of the Monkey and hello to the Year of the Rooster! What better way to celebrate than with a poached then roasted chicken.

Twice Cooked Chicken

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Special Note:
You will have to start the recipe the day before you want to serve it, as the poached chicken needs to rest overnight.

Ingredients
for poaching the chicken
1.5kg whole chicken (approximately)
2 spring onions, roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves, bruised with the back of a knife then peeled
6cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
3 star anise
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup Chinese rice wine
1/2 cup dark soy sauce
12 cups (3 litres) water, more may be needed

for the marinade
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sea salt

for serving
thinly sliced fresh red chillies

Instructions
Place the spring onions, garlic, ginger, star anise, cloves, cinnamon stick, Chinese rice wine and dark soy into a large saucepan. Add the chicken, breast side down. Pour the water over the chicken making sure the chicken is fully submerged. Add more water if necessary.
Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
Remove from heat. Cover and allow the chicken to steep for 1 hour.
Carefully remove the chicken from the poaching liquid and place into a baking pan. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.
Discard the poaching liquid.
The next day, preheat the oven to 220C / 430F.
Mix together the marinade ingredients.
Brush the chicken with half the marinade.
Bake for 20 minutes. Brush chicken with remaining marinade and continue baking for a further 10 – 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.
The best way to check if the chicken is cooked is by placing a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh or the breast without touching the bone. It should be approximately 82C / 180F.
If you don’t have a meat thermometer you can pierce the thigh with a skewer and when the juices run clear the chicken is cooked.
Cover the chicken with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into pieces.
Serve with sliced chillies.

For an extra spicy kick, make a batch of Chinese five spice salt by combining 1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder with 1 tablespoon sea salt. Sprinkle it over your chicken or use it as a dipping salt.

Horsey New Year!

What if I told you you could ring in the New Year with a Zombie Horse! For those of us of a gothic persuasion, the spirit of the New Year cannot be embodied in a better form than that of the Welsh Mari Lwyd. Mari Lwyd, or Y Fari Lwyd in Welsh, translates as Grey Mare or Grey Mary. Mari Lwyd is a horse that comes back from the dead in the guise of a horse’s skull decorated in ribbons and mounted on a pole. A white sheet is attached to the pole hiding both the pole and the person carrying the Spooky Hobby Horse.

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Mari Lwyd and her gang of followers engage in Hobby Horse Hijinks by travelling from house to house trying to gain entry. They do this by singing and engaging in a battle of riddles. The occupants refuse entry in song and riddles. The banter continues until the occupants relent and allow Mari Lywd inside, where she is rewarded with food and drink. It is lucky to allow the Grey Mare entry as she brings good luck to the occupants for the New Year.

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If Mari Lywd comes knocking on your door New Year’s Eve, you can try offering the Zombie Horse some horsey based food and drink. Devils on Horseback sound like an appropriate treat. My two versions of the popular canapé feature dates and prunes stuffed with blue cheese wrapped in prosciutto and dates and prunes stuffed with dark chocolate wrapped in bacon.

Devils On Horseback

 

Ingredients
12 dates, pitted
12 prunes, pitted

for the blue cheese devils
100g blue cheese
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
12 thin slices of prosciutto

for the chocolate devils
12 squares of 70% dark chocolate,
6 strips of bacon, halved crosswise

Instructions
Preheat oven to 230C / 450F.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Place the blue cheese in a small bowl. Add the pepper and mash until combined.
Fill 6 dates and 6 prunes with an equal amount of cheese.
Wrap each one tightly with a slice of prosciutto.
Secure with a toothpick.
Fill remaining dates and prunes with a piece of chocolate.
Wrap each one tightly with a slice of bacon.
Secure with a toothpick.
Place on prepared trays and bake for about 10 minutes or until the prosciutto and bacon are crispy. Turn over once, halfway through cooking time.
Serve warm.

What better way to wash done these tasty snacks than with a horsey cocktail 🙂 I thought of making a Moscow Mule, but chose a less known drink called a Horse’s Neck. I think it is the perfect drink for a horse whose head is balanced on a stick!

Horse’s Neck Cocktail

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Ingredients
Ice
25ml whisky
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Spiral of lemon peel
Ginger ale

Instructions
Fill a highball glass with ice.
Pour the whisky over the ice.
Add the bitters and lemon peel.
Top up with ginger ale.

Omit the lemon peel and you have a variation on the Horse’s Neck cocktail called a Horse Feather cocktail.

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Scary Xmas!

There are many reasons why the holiday season can be scary – family gatherings being one 🙂 But did you know that there is a dark side to the tradition of gift-giving? If good children are rewarded with gifts, what happens to naughty children? Enter one of the many scary creatures of xmas – Krampus!

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Krampus is half goat, half devil. He is hairy, has cloven hooves, goat horns, a long pointed tongue and fangs. His horned form appears to be a blend of ancient horned goat deities like Pan and traditional images of the devil. The name Krampus is derived from a German word for claw. I first saw Krampus in the television series Grim. He made a real impression on me 🙂

Krampus is the dark half of Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas. Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas reward good children by giving them gifts, while Krampus punishes bad children by giving them coal and sometimes beating them with the bundle of birch sticks he carries. In his scariest moments, Krampus carries a sack which he stuffs with naughty children. The fate of the children varies – but the outcome is always grim.

Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of the Feast of Saint Nicholas. It is on this night that Krampus appears, ready to punish naughty children. Sometimes he is accompanied by Saint Nicholas, reflecting they are two halves of one gift-giving whole. So ask yourself this on Krampus Night – “Have I been naughty or nice?” The consequences of the answer have never been so scary!

To honour Krampus Night I thought I would do a cheeky pasta dish – Gnudi with Puttanesca Sauce. Gnudi are nude or naked ravioli. Basically they are a ravioli filling without the pasta. I have chosen goats cheese for the gnudi to reflect the goat origins of Krampus. I chose to serve them with a puttanesca sauce as the name is derived from an Italian word for whore or prostitute. I couldn’t resist topping my naked gnudi with a tart sauce. Serve with breadsticks, just in case some naughty children come for a visit and need a light beating 🙂

Gnudi with Puttanesca Sauce

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Ingredients

for the gnudi
150g soft goat cheese, room temperature
2 eggs
good pinch of sea salt
100g hard goat cheese, finely grated
1/4 cup plain flour, more or less may be needed
extra flour for dusting

for the puttanesca sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic gloves, finely minced
6 vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
6 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
1 + 1/2 tablespoons small capers, drained
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried basil

Instructions
In a large mixing bowl mix together the soft goats cheese, eggs and salt.
Using a wire whisk, beat until smooth.
Using a wooden spoon stir through the hard goat cheese.
Add a tablespoon of flour at a time and mix through until you have a soft and light dough.
Shape into walnut sized balls.
Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
Add onion and saute until soft and lightly caramelised.
Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients.
Stir until combined, then simmer gently while you cook the gnudi.
Preheat oven to 190C / 375F.
Bring a large saucepan of generously salted water to boil.
Remove gnudi from fridge and roll in extra flour until lightly dusted.
Drop in batches into boiling water.
As they cook they will rise to the surface. Once risen, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them in a large oven proof dish or individual ramekins.
Pour the puttanesca sauce gently over the gnudi and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

A Kimchi For All Seasons

As the wheel spins toward Halloween, I’m thinking about the Pagan festival I usually don’t celebrate – Beltane. It’s not that I don’t like Beltane, it’s just that it happens to fall on Halloween. In the topsy turvy world of the southern/northern hemispheres, Pagan holidays are reversed. As the classic festivals were celebrated in the northern hemisphere, those of us in the southern hemisphere can feel a bit out of place. Do we celebrate Yule in December or June? Halloween in October or April?

As the festivals are based on the seasons, it makes sense to simply reverse the holidays down under. I do this for seven out of the eight classic seasonal celebrations, but when it comes to Halloween, I celebrate it twice! It hasn’t bothered me before. As a vampire loving goth, I love celebrating this spooky holiday twice a year. But as I went for my usual walks down my local streets, I felt the draw of Beltane deep in my bones. While alternating between keeping my eyes up for swooping magpies and eyes down for passing snakes, I was inspired by all the animal life coming out to enjoy our Spring. So now I am in a quandary. Do I celebrate Halloween, Beltane or both next week? I’m not sure, but I am certainly getting signs that paying attention to seasons is very important! Which brings me to kimchi 🙂

Ever since I heard about Korea’s national dish I have wanted to try it. Kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish, famous for its rich red colour and its spiciness. Unfortunately, one of the key spices is chilli, which I am allergic to. It was only after talking to a friend well versed in kimchi, that I discovered white kimchi, a type of kimchi that doesn’t have chilli. Armed with a copy of The Kimchi Cookbook: 60 Traditional and Modern Ways to Make and Eat Kimchi (Lauryn Chun), I began exploring the world of white kimchi.

Apart from the different types of vegetables that could be used, the different seasonings and the different types of fermentation processes, what I also learned was that there are different kimchi for different seasons. I considered making a Spring kimchi but was more drawn to the Autumn offerings. You just can’t take the Halloween out of me 🙂 So while I still don’t know what festival I will be celebrating next week I do know one thing – I’ll be contemplating my dilemma over a bowl of refreshing Autumnal kimchi.

Apple, Pear, and Cabbage Water Kimchi with Fennel in Clear Broth

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Ingredients
450g wombok (napa) cabbage
2 tablespoons sea salt
1 medium nashi pear
1 medium fuji apple
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons sugar
4 cups cold water
1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced

Instructions
Cut the cabbage in half.
Cut the core out of the cabbage then cut into 5cm pieces.
Wash the cabbage thoroughly.
Mix together the cabbage and salt in a large bowl. Let stand for 30 minutes.
Peel and core the pear and apple.
Cut into quarters or thick slices. I do a combination of the two.
In a food processor, puree together the onion, garlic and ginger.
Place the pureed mixture into a large bowl.
Add the sugar and water and stir well.
Add the cabbage with the brining mixture.
Add the pear, apple and fennel and mix together.
Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate.
Use within 1 month.

This is my first attempt at kimchi. It came out rather salty and I’m not sure if that’s how it is meant to taste. I’ve taken a small batch out and added extra water. I’ll see how that goes. I’ve also read that adding radish slices can cut down on the saltiness. However, the apples and pears work well with the saltiness. Am happy for any tips or advice on my kimchi journey 🙂